Summer/2020: Your Guide to a Safer DIY River Ride: Pre-Planning Your Voyage Down the Farmington River is More Critical Than Ever
Dispatch: Friday, June 12, 2020, 9:23pm…. The 911 call came in about an individual who had been tubing down the Farmington River and was now missing. Canton’s Volunteer Fire and EMS Department’s firefighters and EMTs arrived on the scene, with mutual aid partner New Hartford Fire Department, responding and anticipating an evening search and rescue mission.
In Response: Because the Farmington River is a defining environmental landmark for Canton, it is a focus of ourDepartment’s year-round training. The summer season is especially active, with firefighters and EMTs regularly training and drilling for the many different scenarios where our rescue truck, kayaks, ATV and boat will be dispatched.
In 2019, working with Canton Police Department and the Department of Public Works, we added a new river rescue tool. Large, reflective, numbered River Signs were made and strategically positioned up and down the Farmington River. Now, if a tuber, swimmer or boater needs assistance, they can more accurately share their location by identifying the closest Sign they see. So, we’re ready.
Enter COVID 19, which has added yet another dimension to our expected summer/2020 river response. Recently, Farmington River Tubing announced the temporary closure of its popular Satan’s Kingdom river ride, due to concerns about the pandemic. That means: no lifeguards; no commercial grade tubes; no personal floatation devices, (PFDs); no safety briefing; no shuttle to the Tubing launch point or ride back to your car; and no warning signage about the inherent dangers that can quickly turn a recreational afternoon on the water into an emergency situation.
So, now you have to be ready. The safety of your DIY Farmington River ride is going to require a personal pre-plan that includes: a review of current/anticipated conditions; proper gear; and some ‘what if?’ brainstorming.
The weather report is important, but so is a review of water levels and flow rates, which can dramatically change in a matter of hours. After a rainfall, for example, the River can run very fast, making tubing, or even walking in knee deep water, significantly more challenging. Conversely, if flow rate is too low, you should be prepared with the proper footwear, for protection against slippery rocks and other obstacles. Farmington River Watershed Association, (frwa.org), and Farmingtonrivertubing.com are good resources for River conditions.
PFDs: Don’t even think about entering the River without a US Coast Guard approved PFD. Keep it zipped up to ensure against snagging on trees, rocks or other hazards.
Tube: The most practical and comfortable type of river tube is not a pool float, but something made of commercial grade material, with a mesh bottom and handles/hardware for tying ropes, hooking on insulated water bottles, dry bags, etc. Don’t forget a portable air pump, that plugs into your car, to speed up inflation of your tube.
Phone: Placed in a waterproof bag, (with your ID, car keys, sunscreen, snacks and other valuables), your phone will be key to alerting the 911 Dispatcher to your location, using the River Signs, during an emergency.
Rope: Rot resistant, nylon rope can be used to connect multiple tubes to one another, increasing everyone’s chances for a safe river ride.
Buddy Up: This is not the summer for a solo ride down the River. Not only is there safety in numbers, but a designated driver/river rider is an extra pair of eyes that can anticipate issues, before there is trouble.
Exit Plan: How will you get back to your car? You can call an Uber or Lyft, but the buddy system works well here too. You can initially park one car at the ‘take out’ area, then transport members of your party back to the launch site to pick up their cars.
Be Aware: Because safety is self-serve, more than ever this year, it’s important to be mindful of bringing external hazards to the River. For example, items made of glass can pose a serious risk to other river riders, their tubes, as well as to first responders.
Stay Aware: Drugs/alcohol will slow your reaction times and hinder timely decision making in an emergency. It’s always better to call for assistance before a situation deteriorates further, requiring a more complicated and perilous rescue mission for all – including first responders.
The Farmington River is an incredible, recreational resource. Our goal is, together with you, to make it a safe and enjoyable summer season.
Canton’s EMTs, Firefighters and Fire Police are trained to handle all types of river, medical, fire, smoke, and hazardous emergencies. Prevention, however, is key to life safety in our community. So, more than ever, that’s where you can help us keep you and your family healthy and protected.
Yours in safety,
Bruce Lockwood, Chief of Department